How should progressive campaigners 'pick their battles'?

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16 January
18:54
Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
24 January
10:10

There are a number of things to take into consideration when a campaigner decides what to focus on. Initially, you need to look at the context of the issue you are targeting to assess your ability to bring about change: the people it affects, who is already working on what and what your own added value is.

You should have a comprehensive understanding of your end goal and how you are going to achieve it. This involves being clear about your message and the impact you want, so people know what it is that you are seeking and how to engage with you. It’s also important to see things from a variety of angles and address the key issues in your policies and communications. 

Other essential elements include staying focused on your objectives and forging alliances with others who share similar aims to you. As things progress hopefully more people will join and a movement will develop.

You need to think strategically about where your strengths lie and what resources you have at your disposal. Bringing about lasting positive change often takes time and involves a lot of hard work.  The mountains can be very steep so having a strong belief in your cause is critical as it helps increase your impact and often leads to new and creative partnerships being forged. 

Another challenge that NGOs frequently face, especially those working at the grassroots level, is access to funding. Running on a tight budget means resources have to be spread thinly, and in order to be most effective it’s best to keep your focus targeted.

“There are examples throughout history of profound social change because people have stood up to discrimination and demanded that governments protect and promote human rights.”

There are examples throughout history where profound social change has come about because people have stood up to discrimination and demanded that governments protect and promote the human rights of those who have been treated unjustly. In an inspiring example of the power of grassroots activism, on 21 January 2017 more than 600 Women’s Marches involving between 3.7 and 5 million people took place in over 60 countries. Many marched in solidarity with those in the United States, where President Donald Trump’s misogynist, racist and homophobic rhetoric, along with his threats to curb women’s reproductive rights, was the initial catalyst igniting this global day of action.

But the protesters were not only speaking to Trump. They were voicing a much broader public message about their rejection of politics fuelled by fear and division, and their call on governments to build bridges not walls.

It was also part of a global continuum of women standing up for their rights. The space for civil society in many countries is shrinking or at risk, and this is threatening the work of organisations fighting for sex equality. Many women are seeing their rights being curtailed and it’s prompting them to take action. Last year there were marches in Poland for women’s reproductive rights; people in Turkey were out protesting about a proposed law that would allow rapists to escape punishment if they married their victim. In Latin America there were protests about the rape and murder of adolescent girls and the impunity that powerful men were getting.

Ultimately, to achieve campaign success you have to persevere. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks, learn from them. Galvanize support and celebrate the small victories along the way. Even if everything doesn’t happen overnight, change can be achieved thanks to ordinary people who are passionate about what they believe in.

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